The presence of nothing . . . and everything

Nothing has to happen and everything will.

This phrase found me in the netherlands of meditation about four years ago. The Taoist wisdom in these words is both a marvel and a dilemma. Its infant implementation into my life currently exists of captured moments when I manage to stand still enough to note that nothing that is occurring in this moment has to happen, yet everything is happening. When I get to the end of each moment, everything has happened. There is nothing left that has not happened in its moment.

I get caught up in control: having to have certain specific events occur so that I can have a specific outcome. Moving past my physical survival and my human dependency upon water, food, shelter . . . all of those things at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, I am sometimes absolutely frantic to make a specific outcome happen. For instance, I am always desperate to honor my commitments. I am particularly abhorrent to being absent for people who are dependent upon me for their well-being (I’m thinking children here and the occasional grown-up who has asked for a favor).

Practical applications of control include situations such as driving my vehicle, showing up for work, spending my money, and all that. What “has to happen” for much of my waking moments is that I survive intact, not harm others, do my job well, save for my future – all of the activities we call living. My continued breathing in and out must occur for there to be continued life within my body. But there is no rule that says my breathing has to happen for its own sake. In reality, none of these things have to happen. I don’t “have” to do anything at all. The motion of existence will continue regardless.

There are consequences to both action and inaction. In deciding what to do or not do, we all believe we can control the outcomes in our lives. We have a large history to support that belief. We witness the outcomes in other peoples’ lives, listen to their tales of how it happened, and sometimes apply their methods to living our own lives. That’s what self-help books are all about.

I have been testing the inaction of “nothing has to happen” in my life. Watching people I love stumble through their lives, it is so very hard for me to not interfere and try to fix them or their lives. I witness their behaviors, their attitudes, and I can nearly all the time guess what the outcome will be. There are formulas for success, I want to scream at them. But who am I to know what is best for them? Who am I to guess what their path should be? Some days, I note that even I have not always acted in my own best interests.

It is easier to spout wisdom than it is to apply it. I am working on unknowing what I believe I know. The place inside of me where nothing has to happen is wordless . . . a place where my preconceived ideas and worshipped fairy tales lie silent and useless.

If nothing has to happen in this moment, I am leaving space for something else to happen.

©2011 by Barbara L. Kass

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8 Responses to “The presence of nothing . . . and everything”

  1. jeffstroud Says:


    One of those paradigm’s or paradoxes ! and very philosophical !
    One of the patterns or life changing events people in Recovery learn is you can make someone not do something, you can only be an example. We can offer advise, we can share our experience, strength, and hope, and let go.
    Is it our place to fix others, and situations? No, it is only our responsibility to be present for ourselves, what is the discovery for us in those moments?

    One of the question ask through out the Conversations with God books, is What are you Being, while you doing your life?

    • Barbara Kass Says:

      What a wonderful question, Jeff: what am I being while I am doing my life? I find it calming and centering . . . a way to be mindful as often as possible is to just pause and ask: what am I being here and now? Therein lies the discovery, just as you say.

      I feel that I have made a lot of mistakes in my life, but I have also successfully navigated myself to a place where I am taking good care of me. I wish to share that with others, but often find people would rather be rescued, and I am not into rescue.

  2. holessence Says:

    Your comment, “I am working on unknowing what I believe I know” immediately brought to mind a bumper sticker I saw that’s wisdom has stuck with me for decades. It said:

    “Don’t believe everything you think.”

  3. Barbara Kass Says:

    That’s exactly what “The Book of Not Knowing” is about, Laurie! Gosh but we talk ourselves into a reality that we can’t even prove exists. I am aiming for that unknowing spot, that empty place where something else can happen, something unexpectedly wonderfully real.

  4. Platin Ring Says:

    Platin Kette…

    The presence of nothing . . . and everything « Eternal Presence…

  5. Sidney Postier Says:

    Right on!

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